According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, there are an estimated 22,300 reported chimney fires in the United States every year. Hiring a chimney sweep to inspect your chimney at least once per year will ensure that your chance of becoming a statistic will remain low.
Since many chimney fires are undetected or unreported, it is possible you’ve already had one.
Depending on how frequently you use your fireplace, you may need to perform maintenance more regularly. Pay attention to the following signs so that you know just when it is time to have a professional inspection or repair.
The Season Has Changed
If you have not used your fireplace for a while, it is possible that leaves, debris or animals have found their way into your chimney while it was not in use.
Mildew buildup, dead foliage, and animal corpses can diminish the quality of your fires and pose a hazard if they interfere with the natural flow of air through your fireplace and chimney.
A season change increases the risk because animals often search for different shelters and the weather brings with it new debris and more leaves. If you hear any sounds coming from inside or near your fireplace, you should hire someone to inspect your fireplace to rule out the presence of animal nests or bodies.
There is a Change in Fire Quality
A chimney that is free of obstructions or creosote allows for a pleasant fire. If you notice that your fires do not burn as efficiently, your fireplace is producing more smoke, or a foul odor is produced when you burn wood, you should contact a professional chimney sweep to assess the cause of your problems.
While creosote gives off a charred scent, other obstructions or debris may produce foul odors too.
Foul odors may be due to the presence of any of the following.
- Dead animals
- Mold or mildew
- Dirt and debris
Your Damper is Giving You Trouble
The damper is what makes sure air is able to flow through the chimney. If you are having difficulty opening or closing it, there may be an existing issue with your chimney.
Broken dampers allow soot and creosote to build up inside of your chimney and it is impossible to know for how long the problem has existed once you discover it. Some other signs that your damper is broken include the following.
- Your fires don’t burn as hot. This could be due to weak air flow or obstructions but is also a sign of a broken damper.
- You notice smoke coming from your fireplace. The damper is designed to prevent this, so take action once you notice smoke inside your home.
- It will not open or close at all.
You Find Creosote Inside Your Chimney On Your Own
Creosote is a dark, greasy and tar-like substance that smells like charred food or fuel. If you are able to find it by touching the walls of your chimney, you need to contact a chimney sweep right away.
Over months, creosote can build inside of your chimney and it poses the following risks.
- Chimney fires that cause structural damage to your fireplace and home
- The spread of chimney fires to other areas of the home
- Respiratory ailments linked to the inhalation of chemicals found in creosote
If you detect the presence of creosote on your own, it is also possible that you’ve already had a chimney fire without even knowing it. A chimney sweep will be able to identify signs of this and recommend repairs.
It Has Been a Long Time Since You’ve Hired a Chimney Sweep
The CSIA recommends that all chimneys be inspected at least once a year by a certified chimney professional. Some homeowners make the mistake of forgoing an inspection because they have not used their fireplaces very often over the course of a year or don’t detect any other signs of a problem.
A professional chimney sweep will be able to tell you whether there is anything wrong with the structure of your fireplace or venting system and can suggest what to do next.
What Happens During a Chimney Inspection?
There are three levels of chimney inspection. Most homes only require the first level, which involves looking at all of the components of the fireplace that can be accessed without pulling the fireplace apart.
During a level one inspection, a chimney sweep will look for deposits of combustible materials such as creosote along with the presence of rotting leaves, dead animals or mold.
The inspector will also look for signs of damage caused by changes in temperature, normal wear and tear and age-related concerns.
If the inspector finds a problem, needed cleaning or repairs will be performed.
Level two inspections require the inspector to access internal components of the fireplace and chimney. This can be done without any special tools and is minimally invasive.
A level two inspection is required if there is the suspicion of a previous fire or structural damage or if there have been any recent alterations to the fireplace. You are also unable to sell the property without fire conducting at least a level two inspection.
Level three inspections are advised when the chimney sweep needs access to the interior chimney wall, the chimney crown and other parts of the chimney that require special tools to access.
Only a professional chimney sweep can determine whether your fireplace is in good operating condition. Since many chimney fires are unnoticed, having an annual inspection can even alert you to a problem you didn’t know existed.
Chimney Sweeps of America has been serving the Denver area for nearly 40 years. To learn more about our services and how to tell when your fireplace needs maintenance or repair, check out our blog.
If it is time for you to have your annual inspection or you have any concerns about your chimney, we invite you to contact us by filling out our online form or calling us at (303) 973-7376 to make your appointment.